May 31, 2012

Endless Love

I was inspired today by a Facebook friend's post. She shared,
"A couple of weeks ago, a very lovely woman who had been our hospice patient died with her lifelong love by her side. In her final weeks, he'd stayed relentlessly by her side, still in love after many decades, unwilling to be apart from each other even for minutes. This morning, we received word that his heart gave out--or, perhaps, won out; he has gone to be with his love again. ♥"

My friend's touching post had me thinking about my own grandparents and then when I realized that this coming weekend would be their 79 year wedding anniversary, I realized I needed to tell their story. I've written about them before. They were the most incredible couple I've ever known. Yes, I'm biased. This is my blog, I can be.

It's hard to believe that Grandpa has been gone over ten years. I still hear his voice and see my favorite gentleman patting my arms, encouraging me, and reminding me why manners matter. My grandfather was a dapper, stately man. When he passed away in 2002, I gave the eulogy. Some excerpts...

... I thank you all for the honor to try to share with you what I know about the man I am proud to call Grandpa...
Grandpa, the devoted husband to his wonderful wife of nearly 69 years. The man who still opened doors for Grandma and held her hand. The man who taught our family what romance is. The man whose marriage is held as a measure of success by all of us. The who found love at first sight with Grandma, and nearly 70 years later had love at EACH sight... with a love and devotion that was apparent to anyone who saw them together. 
The man who taught us all what love, life and family is. A man many are proud to call friend, but a select few have the privilege of calling family. Just last week, the youngest member of the family, my daughter, was talking about one of the characters in her storybooks. She was explaining to me, "He isn't such a bad guy." I looked at her and knew... it was in her blood, spanning the generations; she was speaking the way her great grandfather would. If we all learned anything from Grandpa, it was to give the other guy the benefit of the doubt. I smiled when I realized some legacies are so strong, they become a part of us forever. 
This week, each of us felt a piece of us go with Grandpa. But an even bigger part of him stayed here and is within each of us. Grandpa's legacy lives on. We are proud members of his family, with him as the rock. A man who lived 95 years and never wasted one minute of his time with us. To quote Grandpa, "Ain't that a son of a gun?"

At his funeral, Grandma insisted that everything be red roses. Grandpa was a consummate romantic. He never let a single milestone pass without giving his bride red roses. It was a source of joy and frustration at times. They were wintering in Florida one year and Grandpa said he needed to run to the store for a minute. As the hours ticked by, he didn't return. Everyone was panicked and worried, pacing, wondering where he was. A few hours later, he pulled in the driveway, carrying a dozen red roses. It was Grandma's birthday, and he had been driving around trying to find a florist, because he couldn't let her day slip by without the roses.

After he left us, Grandma carried on. I'll never forget her grief as they closed the casket, begging him to come for her soon. Our matriarch found new strength. She made up her mind to live the rest of her days with gusto. They had moved into an assisted living facility a few weeks before Grandpa died so she was in a comfortable place. I believe with all my soul that is why Grandpa could go. He knew his bride was safe.

A few years ago, as the Christmas season drew closer, Grandma began a slow decline. She always said she didn't want to outlive her husband. She was going to be 95 the coming year. She then said, she wasn't sure she wanted another Christmas without him and she didn't make plans as she normally had to celebrate. But we held out hope. She had come back from a stroke earlier in the year. Her doctors and therapists were amazed at her strength as she was determined to eek out every ounce of quality from her remaining days. They were in awe at the effort our 94 year old grandmother put into her recovery and yes, she came back from a stroke, completely. It was incredible.

Our own wishes drowned out Grandma's. She told us repeatedly that her journey was ending, but we just weren't ready to let her go, I suppose. She tried to help us understand. Then, on Christmas Eve, 10 minutes before midnight, she joined Grandpa. I believe he was standing at the pearly gates, holding a bouquet of red roses, asking her what took her so long.

I gave the eulogy then also, and here are few of those excerpts:

We comfort each other knowing that every minute of Grandma’s 94 years was spent living life to the fullest. We remember the spunky, strong matriarch of our family, and yet, we shed tears. I’m sure part of our sorrow is more about reckoning with our own mortality. I know I’ll never sit on Grandma’s lap again, but I haven’t done that for 30 some years, thank goodness. Perhaps it’s about our own aging that has us struggling today. 
The wonderful thing about Grandma was she gave each one of us a very special piece of herself to carry on her legacy. love of fishing, fresh baked bread, water and swimming. farm life. golf. laughter, family traditions. incredible sense of style.  Those are just a few things I could think of, I’m sure you can think of many more. Each one of us carries forth a special gift that grandma gave us with all the love she had. She taught us traditions, had open arms, and loved each one of us unconditionally. 
She surprised all of us after Grandpa passed away. We never imagined the sort of strength she would find without Grandpa, yet I never felt he was far away.  She kissed his picture nightly, her Dapper Dan. She kept him alive for each of us, not just with her good spirits, but with the same love he gave her for 69 years. That love she gave us was evident yesterday at the funeral home, as the room was filled with our own friends and family. 
I think Grandpa has been all over heaven looking for just the right red roses, and he finally has her bouquet. He came to give them to her. They spent Christmas together smiling at the family they created, and look forward to watching us for many more years to come. 
Thank you, Grandma. Of the things you’ve left behind, the love, the things you taught us by word and deed are the most important gifts you’ve given us.  Those are the things we most treasure. We strive to carry your example for the rest of our days until we see you again.
We all love you so much; give Grandpa a hug from everyone. 

This Sunday would be their 79 year anniversary. They brought so much to our lives. It is an honor to be their grandchild.

May 29, 2012

The Gift of Listening

When was the last time you truly listened?

Sometimes listening isn't always auditory. Sometimes it's visual. Even with extra "listening devices" I again ask, when was the last time you truly listened?

I was lucky this past week. I am a volunteer teacher for our local Junior Achievement. I clear my calendar on a regular basis to make time to help this program. If you're not familiar with JA, take some time and learn about the program. Junior Achievement is a real world application of everything our children learn in the classroom.

junior achievementIt's not about memorizing facts but rather about figuring out how to use what they learn in a way that will help them further their education, consider starting a business or participating in the opportunity to influence change. Junior Achievement shows our children a way to use what they know to be strong and independent adults. Junior Achievement's ongoing educational programs gives our young people the tools to understand what comes next.

I am so confident as a Junior Achievement teacher that I can almost do the lessons without the book. I know the material inside-out.

You can imagine my surprise when one of the student letters I received began this way:

"you've taught us so many things. I need to teach something to you." 

At first I thought, "oh how cute" but my thoughts were a bit dismissive. Yeah, my jaded mind thought, "what can a second grader teach me?"

Turns out, quite a bit. I humbly read on.
"you must know to leave without fear. You need to learn to say goodbye."  
I silently smiled at my young teacher. I was washed over by her wisdom. I don't know why she felt so compelled to teach me something, and I'm not so arrogant as to believe her teaching was because it was our last class. It was deeper than that. She had something to tell me.

My little student wrapped up her note with a rapid departure from her advice, quickly moving to a marketing place.
"I also wanted to tell you that I want to be an artist if I become one you have a free picture and [sic] autograph"

The universe turns.

What was the last time you LISTENED?


I read a touching essay and poignant reminder how quickly it goes.

This stark reminder is from a young Yale student, who died this past Saturday. Ms. Marina Keegan wrote,

"I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old." 

She says 30, then says old.

I pause. A part of me wants to scream, "WHAT?"
30 isn't old.
Instead that way-past-30-voice silenced me and said, but 22 is young. In Ms. Keegan's own words,

“We’re so young. We’re so young,” she wrote. “We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time.”
I don't chase youth. I don't need to be young. I need to be me. I need to be the mom who makes her teenagers cringe on occasion. I need to think I'm cool when I'm not. I need that moment of hilarity when I mess up yet another lyric to another song and my teenagers burst into laughter at my ineptitude. I need them to have their language, while I retain mine. I need to hear a recent college graduate tell me "I'm so glad we'll have someone to be "the mom" in our group."

There is a slice of me scoffing, perhaps even denying my age. The refrain is familiar. I look in the mirror and stretch, tug and pull at myself analyzing if indeed I "am my age".  I whisper defiantly that I "don't look it" but when I'm brutally honest and true, I do. I look my age and I act it.

And I am happy about it.

The alternative doesn't work well for me.

May 26, 2012

She sells seashells...

Central Jersey... by the seashore.

For most of my teenage summers, we vacationed in New Jersey at the shore. We stayed in a centrally located community about halfway between Atlantic City and Newark, close to the ocean. We ate delicious seafood, walked on the boardwalks and listened to Springsteen on boom boxes. I felt like a character in one of the songs I listened to over and over, spending 4th of July at Asbury Park and watching Atlantic City start to make a comeback. Time stood still in the small beach bungalows and sandy streets.

The shore today is characterized by mass media depictions of spray on tans, lots of glitter, big hair and even bigger biceps, but that's not all the state has to offer. Speaking as a Jersey aficionado, the history and beauty of the state is a well kept secret. From parks and gardens, to entertainment to world class universities to Edision's historical Menlo Park, there is more to New Jersey than any Situation or Housewife.

For the past several years as the media has stereotyped New Jersey, I've wanted to defend my borrowed home state where I learned to love music, academia, and good food. One of the things we liked best about visiting Jersey was the ease of traveling around via the trains or highways. Central Jersey is conveniently located to both NYC and Philadelphia. We took several day trips to see Broadway shows,  go shopping, or walk the cobblestone streets of Philadelphia.

I love the enduring friendships that carried me into adulthood. People are always surprised when I talk about the friendliness and welcoming attitude, but pride goes a long way and we were lucky to befriend natives who shared the true treasures of their home. My memories of the state are fond and the opportunities endless.

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May 23, 2012

Shades of Grey: Book Reviews

Shades of Grey I recently finished the BDSM/erotica/romantica trilogy. It's been called "mommy porn" by many, though that categorization makes me bristle. I don't have a problem with women enjoying their sexuality or however they choose to express it. While I personally don't find the particular kink appealing, I have no issue with the fact that others do. Different strokes for different folks. Or in the case of BDSM, different strikes? But truthfully, the fact that I read the entire series makes me bristle a little, because I found it distasteful from the first book. Yet I kept reading the entire trilogy, looking for a clue to the massive appeal of the series.

I have to tell you, it's not a prude thing why I didn't care for it. I can deal with the gratuitous sex scenes. I think they became rather diluted due to overkill, but all that aside, it wasn't the sex that bothered me. Write about sex all you want, it's why Anais Nin and Henry Miller are considered icons in the genre. Great authors can pen great erotic scenes and sex is an essential part of humanity. It pleases me to know that erotic writing is being accepted into mainstream literature a bit more easily.

All that aside, I didn't care for the Shades of Grey series. The underlying message suggests that breaking the rules is acceptable if you're filthy rich. Stalking is cool if the guy is wealthy. In fact, it's desirable and makes the woman feel wanted. Talking a woman into doing something she didn't want to do is okay if you reward her decision with expensive gifts. I found the whole premise beyond disturbing for several reasons. For those of you familiar with the story, take a little journey with me, please.

Suppose the guy was a homeless vagabond. He searched out where the object of his obsession worked. He went to her place of employment where he bought rope and ties and masking tape all the while thinking how delightful it would be to tie her up and keep her in his secret play space, while he flogged and did with her as he pleased. Still as romantic or sexy once you strip away the fancy clothes and palatial surroundings?

That simple shift makes all the difference, doesn't it? The story goes from being romantic to being disturbing. While the tale had hints of the hit movie Pretty Woman in it, with the fun shopping, the fancy surroundings, and the complete disregard for any sort of budget, the cost seems to be rather high, even if not in currency. The suggestion that rules of decency can be ignored if  you purchase the woman designer clothing and shoes cheapens the whole idea of romance and honestly, even lust. Sex becomes nothing more than a commodity. And while sex sells, I hate the thought that women would sell out.

A rose by any other shade, still is a dingy grey.

May 17, 2012

Countdown to Summer

As the school year wraps up, families are counting down to summer vacations and the opportunity to getaway. One of the most convenient ways to comparison shop is by using an online booking agent. Such sites have become so competitive and popular that many of them now also offer online coupons.

We're a big fan of coupon shopping in our home. Some statistics about coupon use is that less than 10% of coupons printed are ever redeemed.  Coupons are not just for grocery stores, but also online shopping sites as well. Smart consumers know that with a few minutes of searching, they can find big savings. Online coupons generally come in the form of a special promotional code. We've listed a few reputable sites that offer coupons for the Expedia website. These coupons range from discounts on airfare, hotels, theme parks, rental cars and even gasoline cards.

It is important to know that if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here are a few tips to spot a real offer from a bogus one. Legitimate offers generally will have an expiration date, will offer a discount (not free) and will require you to make a purchase. As always, check the fine print on the offers for restrictions and expiration dates.  By following the instructions, there are many travel discounts to be found online. Here are some of sources we've discovered! Happy Travels!

May 15, 2012

Finding the Right Person

One of my favorite questions I ask when I am getting to know someone knew is how they met their spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other. Almost everyone has a story how they met and nobody's story is uninteresting. For example, I tell folks I met my spouse because I was dating his friend. That never fails to elicit a few eyebrows and inquiries. It's not nearly as scandalous as it sounds. His friend and I had broken up but still were friendly and we attended a party together. I had met my spouse a number of previous times when I was still dating his friend. In fact, I tease him that he had flirted with most of my friends before he took on me. We hit it off and the rest, as they say nearly 22 years later, is history.
table for six

Another couple I know worked together, yet another met when he wouldn't stop badgering her to go out, and as she puts it, he wore her down. Even stories like that charm me, because the end result is positive. Some couples are high school sweethearts, while others meet in nursing homes. Other couples meet through common interests. Anything that brings two people together is a step in the right direction.

I recently had a conversation with new friend who met her beau on an online matchmaking site. She lowered her voice and said she was a bit embarrassed by how they met and I said, "Don't be embarrassed, be happy you found someone whose company you enjoy! Does it matter how you found each other?" The opportunity to choose who you want to spend time with on your own terms is imminently appealing.

Probably the only way to meet someone to date that has me skeptical are the television shows turn meeting the right partner into a competition or game. At some point, the pop culture/reality aspect of it comes off as rather contrived. It's so much more natural to meet someone from a comfort level that you determine, doing something you enjoy doing, in a place that you enjoy being.

In the spirit of this post, I invite you to share how you met your significant other.
Don't be shy... how did you meet?

May 14, 2012

Growing Up

fabric growth chart
fabric growth chart 
After a day celebrating mothers around the nation, many mothers are reflecting where the time went. Nearly 17 years ago, I cradled my newborn in my arms holding her tiny little foot against my index finger and noticed her foot and my finger were the same exact size. Today, I only look at my finger and then down at her size 7 1/2s and then eye to eye with her and know, my little girl is now a young lady.

We annually marked and dated a wall in our laundry room with hash-marks indicating how much our children had grown. We marveled at the progress and then one day, we found out we had to move. We no longer were going to mark the walls and in all likelihood, someone would be painting over our precious hash marks. In an effort to preserve that memory, we traced it and then transferred it to the wall in our new home.

How to make a growth chart can be much more attractive and portable than hash-marks on drywall. The fabric growth chart shown on the right can be customized to any decor and moved wherever the family lives. The Ribbon Retreat is a fabulous resource with easy tutorials for a myriad of personal crafts and gifts. To make it even easier, Ribbon Retreat offers all the fabric and ribbon to create their projects, with several ongoing sales and specials for both wholesale and retail customers. They regularly receive new fabric and ribbon to please any crafting person.

In accordance with FTC disclosure laws, Fresh Daily Bread has been compensated for this post. We only review companies and products we believe would be of interest to our readers and all opinions expressed are solely ours. If you are interested in sponsoring a post on this blog, click here. 

May 9, 2012

An Open Letter to all Teachers

I just learned that this week is "Teacher Appreciation Week". Why only a week is my first question, but we'll move past that.

I am the parent of two children, 8th and 11th grade. I love teachers. I love the ways they open/close/expand and shrink my children's minds. I love that they make them think, even if that thought is occasionally negative. I even love when my kids hate their teachers, because it gives them a chance to learn how to deal with difficult folks. It also gives them someone besides their mother to hate. Let's face it, moms get a lot of that while watching their child grow.

Yes, I love school and I love the people who make it happen.

You see, while I never wanted to be one of "those" parents, I am heavily involved in the school day of my children. By "those" parents, I mean the sort that teachers whisper about in the lounges, during their breaks. The parents who micromanage their child and the way the child learns. I've made a concerted effort to hand off my child and trust the teacher. It's worked out well. I have been for a collective 22 years of school. (I figure that based on starting school at age 4 (preschool) for each child, ages 14 and 16). I have met over 100 teachers who were responsible for my offspring for several hours each day.

It baffles me to no end when folks gripe about teachers. I want to hug teachers and tackle them with joy. I am grateful that I am given a reprieve. That is not to imply I'm anything close to an un-involved parent, but rather that I am a partner with the teachers. I love knowing that someone who isn't me is helping open my child's mind. I don't want a mini me who doesn't quite get complicated math formulas, or whose eyes glaze over during chemistry lessons. I want them to learn from many folks who teach in many ways. I want them to spend time with someone who isn't me.

At the end of every school year, especially in elementary school, I've given the teachers a framed poem:

What Do Teachers Make?

by: Author Unknown

The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued: "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"  He reminded the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about teachers: "Those who Those who can't...teach." 

To corroborate, he said to another guest: "You're a teacher, Susan," he said. "Be honest. What do you make?"  Susan, who had a reputation of honesty and frankness, replied, "You want to know what I make?"

"I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could."

“I make kids believe in themselves when no one else will.”

"I make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor and an A- feel like a slap in the face if the student did not do his or her very best." 

"I make parents tremble in fear when I call home" 

"You want to know what I make? 

"I make kids wonder."

"I make them question." 

"I make them criticize."

"I make them apologize and mean it." 

"I make them write." 

"I make them read, read, read." 

"I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, and definitely beautiful over and over and over again, until they will never misspell either one of those words again." 

"I make them show all their work in math and hide it all on their final drafts in English."

"I make them understand that if you have a dream, then follow it...and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make or what you do, you pay them no attention."

"You want to know what I make?! I make a difference."

What about you?

Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. 

My colleague, Kris, has issued a challenge. Tell us your thoughts on teachers. Share the link here. Let's really appreciate the folks we trust with our children. 

Get an Ivy League Education for Free

reprinted from : How to Get an Ivy League Education for Free - Fastweb
Ivy League classes
Occasional rivals, Harvard and MIT, team up to offer free online courses.

By Kathryn Knight Randolph
May 04, 2012
Do you have $55K laying around for one year of classes at Harvard or MIT? Didn’t think so. These Ivy League schools are not only the most difficult to get into; they’re also the hardest to pay for. But not anymore.

This week, Harvard and MIT announced that they’re teaming up to provide free online courses, though a program called edX, for anyone around the world, regardless of age, income or ability to get through the grueling admissions process at either school.

The edX FAQs state that the classes will include “self-paced learning, online discussion groups, wiki-based collaborative learning, assessment of learning as a student progresses through a course, and online laboratories.”

Unlike other free online learning collaborations, students of edX will actually be graded on their work and can receive credentials or certification based on their success in the class. However, in order to actually receive the certification, students must pay a small fee. Furthermore, the certification won’t be provided under Harvard or MIT’s name, which means that unfortunately, their name will never get to appear on your resume.

Though Harvard and MIT have been getting a lot of attention this week over their announcement to partner up on online learning, they’re not the first. In fact, Stanford, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania and University of Michigan also announced a very similar partnership this month, as reported by the New York Times.

But there is a big difference between the two programs. Harvard and MIT aren't just hoping to provide greater access to higher education; they’re also hoping to research more about the process of learning in general from the online courses.

Even now, edX developers are able to “track how long students spend working on an exercise or watching a short lecture video to see which tasks or lessons require more fine-tuned learning. Students in a course could be given one of two tests to see which measured learning better,” according to a press release from Harvard.

The estimated $60 million project will receive funding from each of the two schools, grants, and philanthropy and will eventually invite other schools to provide their courses through edX as well, as stated by Harvard. The New York Times reports that Harvard and MIT classes will become available on the edX platform during the fall of this year.

Would you take any of the edX courses offered by Harvard or MIT? Why or why not?

May 7, 2012

Learning for Life

Today, my eldest child returned home from taking a rigorous standardized test. She was distraught because she didn't see a page of questions. She has the opportunity to take the test again in a year but was concerned that she would no longer know the information in a year. I asked her if she actually understood the topic (as it's one of her best ones) or if it was just memorized and crammed. If she knew the answers, she'd still know them in a year. However, if she merely was memorizing them long enough to get a passing grade, she may not retain the information. She just kept insisting that since she wouldn't have the same class next year, she would not remember anything about the topic.

At this point in my life, I've forgotten many things I once knew. My younger child had a math problem that I could solve but couldn't explain it the way she learned it. I knew the solution, but not the way to explain the right formula. Since I couldn't give her the formula, having the correct answer was not helpful. I honestly begin to wonder how well our schools are doing at teaching versus drilling.

Lowell Milken, a trailblazing education advocate explains,
"Nothing is more important for our future than education because it touches on just about everything we value as individuals, citizens and productive human beings."

With all the pressures on both students and teachers, many families are exploring alternative ways to educate their children. Learning is a lifelong activity from preschool to post high school education. Increasingly, the lessons learned in the earlier years remain applicable our entire educational career. Success in life begins with a solid early foundation. Some alternatives to traditional public schooling include Montessori, charter schools, private and parochial schools,  homeschooling and online academies are becoming an attractive option to transform test takers into learning. Exploring the options is the first step to truly making certain no child is left behind.

Geekishly Nerdy or Nerdily Geekish?

I really love all the infographics I've been finding lately. 

Geeks vs Nerds


May 6, 2012

The times are a-changin'

Then vs Now: How Things Have Changed from 1982 to 2012


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